BEER BROS: Brouwerij West, #whenwillyouactuallyopen to one year anniversary celebration
by Ed Solt
Craft beer creativity doesn’t just happen in the fermenter. The colorful labels on bottles and cans make bottle shops an adult Willy Wonka’s factory. On a grander scale, a brewery’s creativity can be seen in the tasting room, most commonly a repurposed factory or warehouse. Three years ago, in San Pedro, brewer Brian Mercer of Brouwerij West (a Dutch word pronounced brewery) took on reimagining a 73-year-old, former WWII Navy storage warehouse.
Mercer had been contract brewing since 2010. He had found a niche within the local craft brewing scene by importing a special sugar for use in brewing Belgian style beers.
“I had been traveling to Belgium, enjoying their different breweries, and found we were missing a few things,” Mercer said. “The correct sugar was one.”
His time spent in Europe shaped what would become Mercer’s style of beer — a program not overly concerned with IPAs. His bottles, featuring labels designed by noted artists, were sold up and down California. The Dog Ate My Homework blackberry saison, followed by the Super Orange and Bitter Blonde became Mercer’s calling cards. Dave Hollop, a former investment banker, philanthropist, and attorney, with a passion for home brewing, shared Mercer’s vision. In 2013, he joined Brouwerij West and the duo sought out a brewery location.
“We were considering downtown LA and El Segundo,” said Hollop. “We actually signed a lease for a location in Belmont Shores.”
The decision to launch in Long Beach was quashed when Mercer and Hollop found the ideal spot in San Pedro — just down the street from Mercer’s San Pedro childhood home and walking distance from the new Cabrillo Marina and the soon to be renovated Ports of Call.
“I remember as a kid riding my bike through these empty warehouses. There used to be rows and rows of these buildings. We’d sneak in,” Mercer said.
“We have to thank former Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz for opening them up for us to look at, as well as Wayne Blank — who took on the risks with a vision,” Mercer added.
Blank turned an old rail yard into the Santa Monica arts mecca Bergamot Station. He then opened Crafted: At the Port of Los Angeles, a collection of more than 100 artists, crafters and food makers. The space just across from Crafted was perfect for Mercer and Hollop. But setbacks kept postponing the opening, leading to the jibing social media hashtag #whenwillyouactuallyopen.
“While the building was beautiful, we had the suicidal task of retrofitting, as well as building a brewery and tasting room and brewing beer,” said Mercer. “We were all zombies. I had many sleepless nights.”
Every inch of the 26,000 sq. Ft warehouse was refurbished. The end results is an enchanting, open space. A warming ambiance illuminated from the string lights hanging down the from the rafters compliments a wooden bar and communal benches. Solar panels provide the power, and the brewery uses 30 percent less water than most breweries.
“I like to joke it’s like a big wooden tent,” Mercer said.
After opening last February, Brouwerij West quickly became one of San Pedro’s cultural hotspots. It embraced the city’s thriving art scene on their event flyers and San Pedro’s rich musical history as home to the iconic punk rock band Minutemen.
“In early June, we launched the FujiPop music series to celebrate the release of our German-style, unfiltered pilsner,” Hollop said. “It turned into a series that took place over the summer, taking on a life of its own.”
Minutemen’s Mike Watt and his second band Mike Watt+The Missingmen and the local cult band of electronically synthesized neanderthals, Fartbarf, played the series. Seminal pop punk band Toys That Kill, the all-female surf band BonBons (another San Pedro gem), and LA indie rock sensation L.A. Witch also played FujiPop.
“In the absence of more South Bay venues offering both groovy vibes and delicious beers to compliment rad shows, it’s dreamy to see blossoming cultural corners in local breweries picking up the slack,” said Jeff Vincent, of music station DirtyHippyRadio.com.
And don’t forget the beers. Brouwerij West’s take on classic Belgian-style and farmhouse ales, mixing traditional ingredients and methods with new inspirational takes, has pushed them to the frontier of beer. Brouwerij West has developed an IPA program and introduced classics like “Mor Mor” a 12.5 percent. Belgian Style Quad; German pils and pale malt, made with Candi Syrup and sugar; and “Dog Ate my Homework” in cans.
“We really love making beer,” said Mercer. “The fresh fruit we source, the Belgian ingredients — we go all out.”
His and Hollop’s efforts have placed the brewery on the “Best New Breweries” lists assembled by LA Weekly, Thrillist, and Beer Advocate.
On Saturday, February 25, Brouwerij West celebrates its one year anniversary. A beer tasting brunch will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring some of Brouwerij West’s as-yet unreleased, mixed fermentation beers, as well as variations of their classic, pulled-out-of-the-cellar, first-year favorites.
“Our brunch will have a beer focus,” said Mercer. “Come evening time; we’ll have our celebration.”
Long Beach’s Shady Grove Foods will slow-roast a whole pig in the morning for serving at 2 p.m. The pig will be roasted in a pomegranate reduction and served on steamed buns, along with ginger scallion rice and seasonal vegetables. Other food trucks on-site will include Tomski Sausage, District Burger, Cocina Fresca, and LA Cake.
LA’s Kim and the Created will headline the evening’s music. Frequent Brouwerij West player DJ Paul E Wog E Wog will provide the beats.
LA’s all female Crow Baby, heavy jammers Flying Hair, and indie rock’s“Hoop Screams will add to the eclecticness of sound.
“I am very proud that we’ll be releasing our first Anniversary Beer,” Mercer said. “Remember, as a family man myself, our tasting room and events are kid and four-legged friendly.”
For more information on Brouwerij West and tickets to the February 25 One Year Anniversary Party, go to brouwerijwest.com. Pen